Mengyang Pan at St Mary’s Teatime Classics from the archive

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Chinese born British pianist Mengyang Pan began her piano studies in China, eventually becoming a junior student at the Central Conservatory of Music Beijing. Having been offered a full scholarship, she accepted an invitation to study at the Purcell School in the UK  with Tessa Nicholson before completing her musical education at the Royal College of Music with Vanessa Latarche.A brilliantly decorated star, Mengyang is the prize winner of many prestigious competitions including Rina Sala Gallo International Piano competition, Bromsgrove International Young Musician’s Platform, Dudley International Piano Competition, Norah Sands Award, MBF Educational Award, Chappell Gold Medal, Brent International Piano Competition and Ettlingen International Piano Competition. Famed for her graceful charm and wonderful communicative stage presence, Mengyang performs repeatedly in some of the best venues throughout the UK such as the Royal Festival Hall, Wigmore Hall, Cadogan Hall, Bridgewater Hall, Birmingham Symphony Hall, St. John’s Smith Square and Royal Albert Hall amongst many others.As an engaging and inspiring collaborator, Mengyang has appeared with many orchestras and her collaboration with conductors such as Maestro Vladimir Ashkenazy, John Wilson and Mikk Murdvee has gained the highest acclaim nationwide. She was presented with the Tagore Gold Medal by HRH Prince Charles in 2007 for outstanding representation of the Royal College of Music, the highest honour possible. In 2011, she was presented to HM Queen Elizabeth II and Duke of Edinburgh at Buckingham Palace for her contribution to the British music and art industry. Apart from performing, Mengyang is also passionate about teaching. She is currently a professor of piano at Royal College of Music, Imperial College Blyth Centre for Music and Visual Arts and St Paul’s School for boys. She also gives regular masterclasses at schools including the Purcell School, Imperial College, St Paul’s School and her native China, events which are greeted with considerable critical acclaim.

Mengyang Pan at St Mary’s Teatime Classics from the archive

It was in 2012 that I first heard Mengyang Pan play in Monza.She gave an impeccable performance of the Emperor Concerto that still remains in my memory for its musicianship and technical command allied to an aristocratic passion and sense of style.It is she and Julien Brocal that stand out in my memory for the outstanding performances they gave in that circus arena.She certainly got my vote and I  was sure that with an artist of such similar virtues such as Bruno Canino, the president of the jury, she must have got his too.She did infact win a top prize and has gone on to confirm those virtues that were so evident 8 years ago.

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This new series from the archive of St Mary’s has given me the opportunity to listen to one or two of the concerts that I have had to miss over the years.I have heard Mengyang on other occasions though at St Mary’s and even in a concerto performance in the church where I was married in 1984 on Kew Green.
Again today one could just wallow in the clarity and her absolute fidelity to the score.
She is an artist that you can trust!
There are not all that many,by the way.

Always playing with impeccable preparation and a technical command that she aquired from the school of Tessa Nicholson.At the Purcell school she was in her class that has produced Mark Viner,Tyler Hay,Alim Beisembayev and many others.

All  different but with virtuoso techniques  at the service of the music.

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It was clear from the opening of the Chopin G minor Ballade the respect and total understanding she has for what the composer wrote.How many times we have heard this Ballade in the so called Chopin tradition where, as Rubinstein explains to a student in a masterclass in Israel, it is pure simplicity that is needed to allow Chopins notes to ring true.
And true they did today with a simplicity and sense of melancholy that is also,I have come to learn, so much part of the chinese culture Such delicacy and musicianly playing contrasting with the great passionate outbursts   played with great technical brilliance.A scintillating coda contrasted so well with the absolute stillness of the final chords interrupted by  the passionate streaks of lightning before the final grandiose octaves.
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The Ballade in F major was just the calm needed after the stormy ending of the first Ballade.A melodic line of great clarity with just a hint of the counterpoints subtley allowed to emerge.The passionate outbursts were played with an aristocratic control and beautifully shaped.The startling changes in harmony in the middle lyrical section have never been more searchingly apparent.I found this coda though a little too fast to allow for a more sumptuous stormy sound that sounded rather clipped at this speed.The final reappearance of the opening melody though was pure magic.
And it was magic she gave us with Debussy’s early Suite Bergamasque.Introducing the piece to her affectionate public she said it was a piece of such complete charm and freshness.
Exactly the qualities that she brought to these four short movements.
A great sense of charm and delicacy in the Prélude but also a clarity that suited this early Debussy so well. A lightness and sense of dance in the Menuet which gradually opens up to a magical lyrical section and a final soft glissando to finish.
There was a complete change of colour for Clair de lune.
A liquid sound for this beautiful melody bathed in the rays of  moonlight .Her perfect sense of balance in the middle section allowed the melodic line to sing so gently before the reappearance on rays of moonlight of the opening melody even more liquid and delicate than before.The Passepied was thrown off with all the nonchalance that Debussy imbues in this bucolic lighthearted dance.
Suite bergamasque  was first composed by Debussy around 1890, at the age of 28, but was significantly revised just before its publication in 1905.The composer was loath to publish these relatively early piano compositions because they were not in his mature style, but in 1905 accepted the offer of a publisher who thought they would be successful given the fame Debussy had won in the intervening fifteen years. While it is not known how much of the Suite was written in 1890 and how much was written in 1905, it is clear that Debussy changed the names of at least two of the pieces. Passepied had first been composed under the name “Pavane”, while “Clair de lune” was originally titled “Promenade sentimentale”. These names also come from Verlaine’s poems. The final title of Suite bergamasque comes from Verlaine’s poem “Clair de lune”which refers to bergamasks in its opening stanza:

Votre âme est un paysage choisi
Que vont charmant masques et bergamasques
Jouant du luth et dansant et quasi
Tristes sous leurs déguisements fantasques.

Your soul is a chosen landscape
Where charming masquerades and dancers are promenading,
Playing the lute and dancing, and almost
Sad beneath their fantastic disguises.

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Precision,temperament and sheer enjoyment were the hallmarks of  her performance of Moszkowski’s old warhorse ” Caprice Espagnol”.It was thrown off with the ease that the great virtuosi of their day used to relish at the end of their programmes.Technically impeccable as was her complete understanding of this world of Spanish dance and pure’ joie de vivre.’

An encore of the Paraphrase  by Liszt of Verdi’s Rigoletto brought even finer playing as she seduced and ravished us with her great belcanto sound and scintillating arpeggio embellishments .The delicate repeated octaves were played with such a refined sense of style and musical understanding almost like the vibrated notes of the ‘bebung’ on the early pianos.Her passionate involvement and total fearlessness  brought just that element of showmanship that is so much part of these pieces when Liszt used to wow his aristocratic audiences with devastating effect.

 

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